The festival’s sixty-fifth edition hit the mid-point today.
The competition has been erratic, but here are the highlights: Michael Haneke’s formidable, stern Amour; Cristian Mungiu’s Bressonian parable of religious totalitarianism, Beyond the Hills; Wes Anderson’s swooning fest opener Moonrise Kingdom; Abbas Kiarostami’s intricate, gorgeous Japanese-language Like Somebody in Love; Alain Resnais’ incandescent You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet and Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo’s lyrical, screwball triptych, In Another Country.
Moonrise Kingdom, which opens Stateside this week, is a lyrical and effervescent piece about dark and difficult subjects. It is probably the director’s sharpest exploration yet of his outsider theme, and is marked by a plaintive quality that reaches a more mournful and apprehensive emotional register.
The title, if I heard Anderson correctly during his opening press conference, is a tribute, of sorts, to Frank Borzage’s 1948 masterpiece, Moonrise. It’s certainly not a surprise, given the eclectic movie references the dot the work, from Jacques Tati to the idyllic interpolated story Monica Vitti relates to her child in Red Desert. The same privileged romantic aura that defined much of Borzage is echoed in Anderson’s story of two forlorn, quietly desperate 12-year olds living, or more accurately, trapped, on a New England island in the mid-sixties.
Anderson has a great knack for appropriating and refracting those references through his own peculiar sensibility, making it intuitive and organic to the material. I know, for a lot of people, Anderson’s films feel too machine tooled and art directed in a fussy, plastic perfection. I don’t care, quite frankly, if Anderson doesn’t adequately elevate or alter his art to suit the taste of some.
My own conflicted feelings about the director and his previous work make me something of an agnostic. Ever since his breakthrough second feature Rushmore, I’ve been both excited and cool. My resistance started to dissipate with his last work, Fantastic Mr. Fox. Anderson’s very good with received forms, in that case, stop motion photography and animation and appending his style to the format.
There was a verve and openness I found breathtaking. I know his films are still too hidebound and precious for many, but his talent for imagery and production design helped crystallize a loose, rich emotional interplay in the energized, complicated inner-world of his characters.
Anderson’s milieu is as mythic and realized as a great children’s illustrator. At its most elemental, the new movie’s has a classic chase and pursuit structure. The story follows the furtive adventures of the two kids, Suzy (Kara Hayward), deadpan and endearing and the young Khaki Scout, Sam (Jared Gilman), persistent and eager, as they cross deeper into the island’s knotty interior for their carefully planned rendezvous.
The director wrote the script with his friend and occasional collaborator, Roman Coppola. The willful eccentricity and idiomatic stylization is still there, but I think what emerges most forcefully, in the glancing touches and precocious imagery, is a kind of persistent melancholy and sadness, explicit in the solitude and quiet disappointment linking the two adult male leads, Bruce Willis’s local sheriff and Edward Norton’s educator and scout leader.
Moonrise Kingdom is an adolescent romantic adventure story graced with deeply adult concerns. The writers take the time to animate the interior world of the two kids, best illustrated in the lovely flashback that shows their first meeting, when he invades the basement church of a local production and finds himself absolutely transfixed by her slightly off-center, ephemeral qualities. Maligned and picked upon by their peers, the two youngsters establish an immediate connection; with their shared sense of being ostracized, they are fairly resourceful and cunning on their own terms.
Still, as easy as it is to be caught up and astonished by Anderson’s formidable imagery (and the vivid, tactile work of cinematographer Robert Yeoman), Moonrise Kingdom is finally bracing and forthright in granting serious ideas and desperate longing to its young kids, most memorably in a frank and funny moment of sexual experimentation between the two on their inlet paradise.
Anderson’s genius for casting and personality invokes Preston Sturges, and the regulars, like Bill Murray, function as his Charles Coburn or Eugene Palette, eccentric, sharply drawn miniatures who imbue their funny and brusque figures with a bracing, devilish wit, clever, underplayed reactions and egalitarian temperaments. Anderson's generosity in treating them with substance and ideas, taking seriously what they think and showing the way home.
The formal invention is not just visual, but aural (please stay through the whole credits, and you immediately understand). Yeoman’s work is also a marvel, from the lyrical pans of the opening to the strangely beautiful and scary climax, his palette subtly moving from deep blues to a monochromatic and steely black and white. Anderson’s anecdotal, anarchic forms are both fleeting and grounded, observant and lush.
Moonrise Kingdom is unmistakably the work of its author; it doesn’t revolutionize his art, but it goes off in lovely tangents that form and congeal into a radical and lovely whole.